Producers: Sue Witham and Michael B. Chait Director: Michael B. Chait Screenplay: Timothy Ritchey Cast: James Maslow, Trevor Donovan, John Turk, Michael Wayne Foster, John Wells, Ronald Woodhead, Taylor Novak, Michael Parrish, Brian Heintz, David Fink, Kara Joy Reed, Lance Newton, Daniel Jeffries, Mason Heidger, Alan Miltich, Michael Bugard and Janina Maria Distributor: Lionsgate
Last week saw the release of the “Top Gun” sequel, so perhaps the balance in the cinematic universe requires that this week should witness the arrival of a picture that might be referred to as “Flop Gun.” Certainly “Wolf Hound” fills the bill.
Michael B. Chait, who directed the film (his first feature), is obviously a man fascinated by vintage military aircraft, having made several documentaries about them, and thanks to the participation of a couple of aviation museums (and, of course, visual effects artists), a number of them are featured in the action. They’re not quite as impressive a sight as the jet fighters used in “Maverick,” but it’s a pleasure to see them in cinematographer Westley Gathright’s widescreen visuals (or perhaps the credit should go to Craig Hoskins, the aerial coordinator, and Dwayne McClintock, the aerial cinematographer), even though editor Janina Maria is inclined to linger over them at inordinate length. A pity that the plot fashioned by Timothy Ritchey in collaboration with Chait isn’t worthy of them.
Simply put, this is a World War II action movie so hackneyed and cliché-ridden that it often engenders giggles rather than thrills. At times it seems that must have been the intention, and yet you can never be sure.
James Maslow, a member of the boy band Big Time Rush, flexes his muscles and a leading-man’s grin as Captain David Holden, a B-17 bomber pilot flying over the Nazi-controlled continent in 1944. He and his escort squadron encounter two British Spitfires, which turn out to be planes previously shot down by the Germans and, in a program referred to as KG-200, refurbished to attack incoming Allied aircraft in the guise of friends. The Americans are taken in by the ruse, and all the planes in the squadron are either destroyed or forced down by the German pilots, Erich Roth (Trevor Donovan) and his brother Heinrich (Ronald Woodhead), though the latter dies in the dogfight.
Holden finds himself alone in the forest where his plane has crashed—some of the crew from his squadron have been rounded up and imprisoned at a nearby German base—and Roth has crashed his plane nearby and is eager for revenge. The two engage in a gunfight, but Holden escapes, only to run into a German patrol looking for survivors. He manages to destroy most of the patrol with improvised bombs and machine gun fire—here as elsewhere, the German soldiers get mowed down in droves while proving singularly poor shots themselves—and then makes his way to the base to free his surviving comrades, along with other POWs—a feisty French resistance fighter (Kara Joy Reed), a British pilot (Michael Parrish) and two black American truck drivers (Lance Newton and Daniel Jeffries).
The mission becomes all the more urgent because Holden has learned that his B-17 is being refitted for a mission that could win the war for Germany: it will be used by leering Colonel Krieger (John Turk) to destroy London with a “super bomb” invented by a scientist named Riefenstahl (Michael Bugard, looking like a wild-eyed Nosferatu stand-in). The captives must break out and stop Krieger’s plan. In the process Holden will confront the seething Roth, who is determined to kill the American and avenge his brother.
What follows is a thoroughly ludicrous cascade of action nonsense in which the small band of prisoners overcome all the German soldiers at the fortified base and Holden takes to the skies in a fighter to follow the B-17 to the English Channel and destroy it with a desperate maneuver before it can deliver its awful cargo. Once again the Germans prove utterly inept, falling in untold numbers before the captives’ bullets while managing to wound only a couple of the good guys for dramatic effect. And, of course, Holden proves the ultimate hero.
The amount of stereotyping in the characters is frankly astronomical. The Americans, from Holden on down, are merely one-note sketches mirroring tons of figures drawn from World War II movies of the past; apart from Maslow, only the Jewish Sgt. Friedman (Taylor Novak) gets a chance at solo screen time when he’s tortured by the cruel Krieger. The others, and their foreign compatriots, bicker, schmooze and get to show off their frightened or determined sides when push comes to shove.
The Germans fare even worse, since those playing them also have to provide an assortment of terrible accents. Donovan’s Roth is a sneering villain, and Turk’s Krieger a snooty guy you’re invited to loathe. Michael Wayne Foster, as the captain of the squadron Holden practically takes out, and Bugard are equally over-the-top. But Alan Miltich, nicknamed “Infamous Alfons” in the credits, takes the cake as brawny sergeant Fritz, whose final stand against the escaping prisoners is uproariously funny—one of the times you’re certain that “Wolf Hound” must have been designed as a send-up of bad war movies. Others come in the cut-aways to the glamorous base dispatcher (played by editor Janina Maria), who imperiously broadcasts her pronouncements through a haze of cigarette smoke; she’s referred to as “Hammelburg Helga,” which can’t help but conjure up memories of “Hogan’s Heroes”—a show about as credible as this movie.
Spoof or not, you have to admire the effort that Chait and his cohorts—including production designer Brandon F. Ottenbacher, composer Michael Kramer, and effects supervisors Matthew T. Stratton and Ryan Urban—have put into a movie that aspires to be an old-fashioned war epic though made on a budget that must have been barely a fraction of a Hollywood studio production. Unhappily, one has to judge the result on the basis of accomplishment, not ambition.
Those planes do look great, though.